The Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, has recently released a new set of standards of physical fitness for Americans. According to the HHS, “This second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) for Americans provides science-based guidance to help people ages 3 years and older improve their health through participation in regular physical activity. It reflects the extensive amount of new knowledge gained since the publication of the first Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, released in 2008.”
To learn more about what these changes are and how they should be implemented in our families’ lives, we turned to our own Michael Woodall, exercise physiologist at the Center for Child and Family Wellness.
New Physical Fitness Standards
“Many of the recommendations haven’t changed for school-aged kids,” explains Woodall. “It’s still recommended they get an hour of exercise daily that includes muscle, bone, and heart strengthening activities varying between a moderate to vigorous intensity.”
The biggest changes in the new PAG that you should be aware of are directed at children ages 3 to 5, which call for preschool children to be, "active throughout the day to enhance growth and development.” Preschool children should be playing or active for at least 3 hours a day, and more is always better.
“You should really try to participate in physical activities that your children are interested in doing,” says Woodall. “Don't be afraid to look foolish trying to learn the new Fortnite dances or getting down and doing push-ups with your kids, even though it may not be your favorite exercise. In time, I believe your children will be more inclined to try something new with you. If a daily routine is difficult for whatever reason, start with a weekly family exercise session and let your children take the lead in choosing the activity. One simple compromise can be ‘why don't you choose the activity this time, and I'll find something new for us next time.’ Having this approach can help to tear down barriers to exercise and make anything as a family more enjoyable.”
“The updates are important for you and your children to understand the need to have a well-rounded, regular exercise routine. Many of the updates have included additional medical conditions that can likely be prevented or better managed with exercise. It’s also recognized that any amount of exercise is better than none; the recommended time frames can be thought of as a long-term goal where the short-term goals can be any amount of time up to that.”
How to Implement the New Standards in Your Life
“First, I would recommend you find out what days and how long your child spends exercising at school — physical education, recess, etc.,” says Woodall. “Focus on the days where they have little or no planned exercise. Then, talk with your children, see what they’re interested in doing and try to find activities that are realistic for them to do every single day. If there’s any pushback, try to only compromise on the amount of time each day rather than allowing ‘rest days.’”
“As for the activities themselves, the recommended three days a week of muscle and bone strengthening activities can easily be accomplished with basic bodyweight exercise, such as chair stands, push-ups from the knees, curl-ups, or even just using playground equipment like the monkey bars and rock-climbing walls. Every day needs to include some sort of heart strengthening activity, such as swimming, riding a bike, dancing, and playing games like tag or races. At the very least, start with walking daily and build up from there.”
“In a society where it’s so easy not to exercise and there never seems to be enough time in the day, I appreciate that the policy has encouraged activity at any level and time frame to be beneficial. I still consider the recommendations as a minimum goal to work toward. Some will take longer than others to achieve the goal, but the expectation should be to continue working on doing more as long as it’s possible to do so. Children absolutely need the positive stress from exercise and the mental break from school and technology.”
Challenges Facing the New Guidelines in Florida
Over the last twenty years or so, the Florida Department of Education has become more and more lax on the required amount of time set aside for physical fitness in our schools, favoring other subjects instead. Currently, there are no standards in place for preschool students, and elementary students are only required to have 150 minutes a week of physical education, or 30 minutes a day on average. Middle school students are only required to take one physical fitness course per semester which leaves the other half of the school year potentially without any at all, and high school students only ever need take one semester of PE in all four years of their time there.
“It tends to be common practice that PE and recess are cut out to make time for other subjects or as a way of disciplining bad behavior,” explains Woodall. “The Florida Department of Education should focus on the opposite as research has shown that there’s a strong relationship between regular exercise and better grades, and improved behavior. The ideal scenario would be to have PE and recess daily, but at the very least, teachers should be encouraged to incorporate time in class to be active, such as stretching and marching in place at their desks a couple minutes every hour.”
Get Guidance and Get Fit
AdventHealth for Children has partnered with WebMD and Sanford Health to get local families involved in the national fit initiative.
Fit is an educational and health promotion initiative that is focused on promoting health and wellness and preventing childhood obesity among kids ages 2-18 by providing resources for parents, children and healthcare professionals.